Several months ago, an examination of Battlestar Galactica’s political underpinnings took place at the United Nations in New York. Last night in Hollywood came the bi-coastal bookend to that initial discussion – at the ‘Battlestar Galactica’ panel, which was part of the LA Times’ Envelope Screening Series. The panel tackled weighty, real-life human rights issues and how these relate to the popular series.
The panel featured Battlestar‘s executive producers Ron Moore and David Eick; actors Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell; and U.N. representatives Steven Siqueira and Craig Mokhiber (whose actual job titles are so formidable and impressive, they would require a separate essay). Serving as moderator was L.A. Times’ Geoff Boucher. A packed house sat in anticipation of some solid political discourse, which Boucher was quick to point could not have found a more likely home that the intersection of Hollywood and Highland (what with the guy paid to wear that SpongeBob costume being just yards away…….). Also in attendance in the audience were co-producers/scribes David Weddle and Bradley Thompson, and producer/director Michael Rymer – the latter receiving a standing ovation led by Moore for being the “third partner” responsible for BSG’s successful run.
The U.N.’s Mokhiber seemed sincere in his admission that the U.N. has come to view Battlestar Galactica as “more allegory than fiction.” He cited “freedom from fear and freedom from want” as issues that fuel both the U.N. and BSG’s plotlines, with enough overlap that Mokhiber insisted Battlestar must surely “owe royalties to the U.N..”
“I trust you’ve all heard of the U.N.,” Siqueira joked. “We’re a big brand.”
How To Distinguish The Good Guys From The Bad Guys (HINT: You can’t!):
While in old Hollywood westerns, the good guys generally could be identified by their white hats and loyal sidekicks, the panelists quickly shot down the notion that there’s always a villain. Mokhiber praised Battlestar’s category-defiant portrayal of “The Other” (what Hollywood quaintly used to refer to as the “bad guys”), and noted how moral relativism and exceptionalism often blurs the line between sides.
We all remember Lee’s moving courtroom defense on behalf of Baltar. So does Siqueira, who described the scene as “impactful.” “If everyone is accountable, how do you purge your guilt?” he asked. “If you bury accountability, it will come up later.” Mokhiber agreed: “Impunity does not serve the end of conflict.”
McDonnell felt that the blurred line between heroic and human behavior was a “constant negotiation” for her character, who she described as “an evolved spiritual person living inside a very frightened human being.” She also added that it was a “privilege” but also “very controversial” to be playing President Roslin during the democratic primaries when Hillary Clinton was vying for a similar, terrestrial title.
There’s No Business Like Show Business……
Siqueira said that while the U.N. has at times been given a spot in big Hollywood filims, it had been more of a “bit player or prop” in the past. Its recently heightened show business presence stems from the realization that the entertainment industry is “much better at communicating these issues.” (Hmmm…..better? Or just savvier about sandwiching the issues in between cool special effects and steamy love scenes?)
At any rate, Siqueira noted that the U.N.’s collaboration with a groovy sci fi show meant “we hit whole new groups of people that we never thought we could access or who would listen.”
Now, if Tricia Helfer were appointed the next Secretary-General (ensconced in that little red dress, no less), boy, could the U.N. rake in the fans then……
Politics as Plot Point
Moore explained that from its initial inception, he wanted the show to be politically relevant, but not “a soapbox for our particular political viewpoints” nor a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel sort of exercise – a direct critique of recent administrations.
Eick confessed that the evolution of the show as a lighting rod for political discourse was “surreal” given that the show was initially “dreamed up in sports bars.” He says it was a matter of trying to tell good stories “that were being informed by a sick world.” Eick seemed less shy about pointing a finger of admonishment toward specific political figures. Especially ones nicknamed Dubya. “If we’d done this show ten years later,” he said, it would have been a totally different ballgame.
Olmos felt that the most rewarding part of his character’s experience was an ability to portray the private human anguish behind military might and stoicism. “Many times [Adama] was on the ground,” he pointed out, having collapsed “from the weight of what we’ve done.”
And Then Things Got Interesting….
An ever-feisty Olmos could not resist the urge to pose the tough questions to Mokhiber and Siqueira. While Olmos said he does not believe in the death penalty, he could understand the desire to bring war criminals to justice. “We get Bin Laden – what do we do with him?” he demanded of his U.N. co-panelists. Mokhiber reiterated that the U.N. does not condone capital punishment. “We don’t have to stoop to the level of terrorists and war criminals,” he said, noting that to do so merely means “you corrode your civilization from the inside.”
Eick observed that “no matter how left of the aisle” you sit, there are plenty of otherwise good-hearted pacifist liberals who would like nothing more than to see someone like Bin Laden “air-locked.” Siqueira countered with: “You airlock Bin Laden, you get a thousand more like him” popping up to fill the void.
From Couch Potato to Cause Crusader
Given Battlestar’s inspiring portrayal of certain political quagmires, it’s entirely possible that fans of the show might be moved to do more than simply debate Starbuck’s fictional fate on message boards. As Boucher optimistically posed to the panelists: What can people do to become more politically active?
Mokhiber noted there are no shortage of volunteer opportunities through organizations like Amnesty International, but even more simply than that, he relayed that people ought to “find out what the heck is going on” in the first place.
Siqueira offered up: “Care about one issue deeply, and act.”
“You have to decide what matters to you,” concurred Moore, but added that the smaller picture issues such as “how I treat my neighbor” can reverberate as strongly as the grand sweeping drama inherent on the world political stage.
Eick, on the other hand, continued to serve up a more sassy partisan opinion of how to enact change. “Find somebody to beat the hell out of Glen Beck!” he insisted. And also: “It’s OK to be smart!” he added. “All I can say is, “Tell a friend.”"
McDonnell’s advice? “Being compassionately involved in life is more fun than being separate…..”
And Olmos, who had a few family members recently return from Turkey, noted that news coverage of the same events plays out quite differently in different regions of the world. “It’s hard to get honest information” from any source or country, he observed, because “We’re human, and we love to put our own sense of being into everything we do.”
The passion displayed by all panelists – not to mention the show-stopping clips of BSG’s most gritty and dramatic moments – triggered some serious Galactica withdrawal. Delve back into the satisfying ooze of political intrigue and complicated drama with your favorite BSG episodes here.
And, of course, there’s always Caprica……